Leland Bennion

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1. The encroachment of woody plants into grasslands is an ongoing global problem that is largely attributed to anthropogenic factors such as climate change and land management practices. Determining the mechanisms that drive successful encroachment is a critical step towards planning restoration and long-term management strategies. Feedbacks between soil and aboveground communities can have a large influence on the fitness of plants and must be considered as potentially important drivers for woody encroachment. 2. We conducted a plant-soil feedback experiment in a greenhouse between eastern redcedar Juniperus virginiana and four common North American prairie grass species. We assessed how soils that had been occupied by redcedar, a pervasive woody encroacher in the Great Plains of North America, affected the growth of big bluestem, little bluestem smooth brome, and western wheatgrass over time. We evaluated the effect of redcedar on grass performance by comparing the height and biomass of individuals of each grass species that were grown in live or sterilized conspecific or redcedar soil. 3. We found that redcedar created a negative plant-soil feedback that limited the growth of two species. These effects were found in both live and sterilized redcedar soils, indicating redcedar may exude an allelochemical into the soil that limits grass growth. 4. Synthesis. By evaluating the strength and direction of plant-soil feedbacks in the encroaching range, we can further our understanding of how woody pants successfully establish in new plant communities. Our results demonstrate that plant-soil feedback created by redcedar inhibits the growth of certain grass species. By creating a plant-plant interaction that negatively affects competitors, redcedars increase the probability of seedling survival until they can grow to overtop their neighbors. These results indicate plant-soil feedback is a mechanism of native woody plant encroachment that could be important in many systems yet is understudied.